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Concept car at Detroit Auto Show drives home the danger of racial profiling

Vehicle safety features by automakers focus on issues like preventing collisions, improving visibility and detecting blind spots. Beneficial as those innovations are, they don't protect against a particularly menacing source of danger: driving while Black. So now, alongside the hype (and union action) at this year's Detroit Auto Show, a novel type of concept car is drawing attention: the world's first DWB.

A regular sedan with some unusual features, the DWB lacks a trunk or glove compartment; it has see-through doors, registration tags that automatically renew and a steering wheel that keeps hands at 10 and 2 at all times. The DWB isn't an actual automobile. Imagining what a vehicle would look like if it were designed for drivers to survive being racially profiled, DWB is a campaign by nonprofit Courageous Conversation Global Foundation to shine a light on the dangers Black drivers face in the US.

An accompanying website shows how each 'feature' is connected to specific police encounters that resulted in the death of a Black automobilist, including Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by police while reaching into his glove box for his license and registration.

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Courageous Conversation points to the acute need for an end to racial profiling: "In America, Black drivers are 20% more likely to be stopped and searched by police, and 3x more likely to be killed by officers during encounters. From microaggressions to murder, routine traffic stops are anything but routine when you're Black." No one of color is safe from that treatment, regardless of their age, income, social status or the car they're driving.

For those who aren't directly affected by police brutality, it can be hard to imagine the injustice and danger faced by their law-abiding neighbors and coworkers who happen to be Black — how nerve-wracking a traffic stop can be, even if the outcome is good. By reframing the problem through the lens of bizarre car safety features, DWB underscores the insanity of the current reality and could provoke broader awareness, understanding and action.

Innovation of the day

Spotted by: Fernanda Rocha